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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
12/14/07 -- Vol. 26, No. 24, Whole Number 1471
Table of Contents
Why Don't We Love Science Fiction:
There is an article in the London "Times" by Brian Appleyard on why science fiction is more important than many critics give it credit for. See http://tinyurl.com/2xwngc.
Trailers with Commentary:
Like it says ...
Ars Gratia Mazuma (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I was discussing Azalea Pictures. This was the television arm of American International Pictures. They made films for television on the cheap. No, that is not accurate. They took the scripts for films that had already been made on the cheap and made them even cheaper and more poorly. They used scripts they already had so they could save on writing costs. THE EYE CREATURES was an even cheaper remake of INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN. They could afford only a few monster suits for aliens so some have the suits and some are in black leotards and wear only the monster heads. I claim that just as MGM movies start with a lion roaring under a banner saying "Ars Gratia Ars." The motto of Azalea should have been "They'll Never Notice." [-mrl]
Computer Unaided Design (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
In the 12/07/07 issue of the MT VOID, I reviewed THE BEST AMERICAN SCIENCE WRITING OF 2007. This is a book that has more of what first interested me in science fiction than most current books. I talked about what was one of the better articles, Jonathon Keats article, "John Koza Has Built an Invention Machine." This piece is probably worth bringing to people's attention and looking at in a little more detail than just one short entry in a book review. This is actually a fairly exciting idea.
Kozo is letting machines design technology. It should be clear first what this is not. It is not Computer Aided Design in which the human provides the real intellect and the machine is just a helper, doing the mindless details. That would be more like what I am doing here typing in the article while Microsoft Word does the formatting and spell-checking. Computers are already very good at mindless sets of tasks like that. But the real thinking work is done by me. Nor does he give the computer criteria and some parameters and it tries all the parameters to choose their optimum values.
Koza's approach is really inspired by a model such as the breeding of Darwin's finches or the breeding of racehorses. He may start with one good current design for an antenna and turn it into a mathematical model. Then like genetic mutation, he will model a thousand variations of that antenna each with minor random changes from the original. Each he will then test to see how well it works. Most designs will not work as well as the original antenna. He will throw those away. Just a very small percentage will be better than the original antenna design. These are like champions. He will take the very best and take characteristics of the best and cross them with characteristics of others champions. Again, most such cross-breedings will not be as successful as their champion parent designs. Some will be better. He will eliminate the ones that are not good. Then he can make random changes to the children of the best designs. The process starts again. The algorithm for this approach came from Koza and he did the programming. But the innovations are coming from the computer's random number generator. Versions of the antenna are getting better through competition and a form of survival of the fittest.
In the article Koza was indeed trying to design an antenna for NASA's Space Technology 5 mission. Koza gave his computer specifications for the antenna and just let the program simulate hundreds of generations of antenna designs all trying to survive to pass their characteristics on to the next generation. In simulated cruelty, only a small number of antenna designs were good enough to be allowed to reproduce and pass their characteristics to the next generation. The vast majority were not successful enough, lived in vain, and died without issue. Only the real champion designs were allowed to mate and pass their characteristics to the next generation of designs. After hundreds of generations what they had was an antenna that looked like a bent paperclip. Nobody in his or her right mind would have designed an antenna that looked like that. It was just not intuitive. Even Koza himself looked at it skeptically. But he probably did not look at it that way for long because the mathematical modeling said that this weird design out-performed more the less weird and more intuitive designed models. It had the sort of absurd looks that intelligent design would not have thought of. Instead it was the sort of silly-looking thing that would be the product of natural selection. Koza did not devise it. The computer program essentially designed it.
Besides the fact that this could be tremendously useful approach for design, it also demonstrates the principle that random mutation combined with natural selection may create better designs than a designer/engineer might think of. A common anti- evolution argument is that nature could never put together something of the complexity of a pocket watch, much less that of a human. As simulated here natural selection can create generations increasingly and unexpectedly well-adapted to their environment.
Antennas (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
A relative recently got new hearing aids, and I noticed there were short (half-inch) fibers sticking out of them, with tiny knobs on the end. The material looked like fiber-optic material and I was wondering if they were some sort of new antennas that would improve audio reception or something.
So I asked my brother (who knew this guy pretty well) about this, and he said that they were just there to make putting the hearing aids in and taking them out easier, and that after a couple of weeks, they get clipped off.
On the down side, I guess this means that there are not new, improved antennas for hearing aids. On the up side, this person won't have to walk around looking like "My Favorite Martian" with extended antennas--or would they be antennae? [-ecl]
THE ORPHANAGE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Juan Antonio Bayona's Spanish-language film THE ORPHANAGE is a very intense ghost story, expertly filmed, but the writing lets down the rest of the film. There are bits from several successful horror films, especially POLTERGEIST, rehashed here. Guillermo del Toro's name is shown prominently as presenter and producer, but THE ORPHANAGE is really not in his class. The film is competently made, but it just does not have enough that will not be already familiar to the viewer. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
In the 1960s and 1970s Mexican and Spanish horror films built a reputation for tackiness. Last year PAN'S LABYRINTH demonstrated that that era has passed and that some of the best current horror films are being done in the Spanish language. The new horror film THE ORPHANAGE, a Mexican-Spanish co-production, is produced and "presented" by the director of PAN'S LABYRINTH, Guillermo del Toro. That connection was probably played up because it inspires hope that it would be a film in the same class as PAN'S LABYRINTH. Sadly, while it is a technically well-made horror film with a good feeling of tension, the premise is too complex and it just lacks the originality that last year's film had. There are bits from several successful horror films, including THE SHINING, THE HAUNTING, LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE, THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE, THE INNOCENTS, FRIDAY THE 13TH, and especially POLTERGEIST. The film has dark hidden secrets of the past, a haunted house, a deformed and masked spirit, menacing ghost children, a magic lighthouse, a connection to a familiar fantasy story, and too much else in one story. The very complexity of the mixture works against the potency of the horror. It is a little hard for a viewer to feel fear when he has to think out how the thing that is threatening fits into the overall story.
Laura (played by Belén Rueda) was raised in an orphanage. As an adult she and her husband Carlos (Fernando Cayo) have adopted an orphan Simón (Roger Príncep), and are starting their own orphanage, having purchased the building that housed the orphanage of Laura's youth. The previously abandoned building is on the Spanish coast near an abandoned lighthouse. Soon strange things start happening. There are odd noises at night. Simón claims to have invisible friends, but they may not be imaginary. Complicating matters, a strange little social worker shows up on their doorstep unannounced and seems to be taking an unusual interest in the couple's plans. A strange child seems to be haunting the house wearing a mask made from a cloth sack. But things go from bad to tragic when Simón disappears without a trace for months. Laura is convinced he is alive and somehow near at hand.
Laura's grief feels very real and Rueda turns in a very fine performance. Her extreme anxiety over losing her son (perhaps literally losing rather than having the closure of having him die) has her trying several increasingly desperate approaches to try to try finding him. In a small role Geraldine Chaplin plays a Spanish medium.
In most aspects this film is very well made. It is the sort of edge-of-the-set supernatural thriller that is hypnotic. The art direction is beautifully executed. With a mostly blue-gray pallet the films casts a moody spell. But the script really lets the rest of the film down. The story of what happened at the orphanage is needlessly melodramatic and also needlessly convoluted. But the real horror of the modern horror film is that too many of these films, like cannibals, feed off of previous horror films. Guillermo del Toro has shown he can break out from that cycle, but scriptwriter Sergio Sánchez has not. THE ORPHANAGE might well have been better off promoted without the references to Guillermo del Toro. That connection makes promises that script could not fulfill. I would rate THE ORPHANAGE a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0464141/combined
EMPIRE by Orson Scott Card (Sound Library, copyright 2006, Audio Renaissance, 9 CDs/11 hours 18 minutes, ISBN 0-7927-4377-6) (audiobook review by Joe Karpierz):
So yes, I know, I said that after SANDWORMS OF DUNE I'd review the latest Thomas Covenant novel, FATAL REVENANT. Then one of my favorite radio stations changed their morning programming, resulting in my getting fed up and heading to the library to start listening to audiobooks again. My first foray back into audiobooks was EMPIRE by Orson Scott Card. EMPIRE is a novel based on a video game that deals with a divided country on the brink of civil war. In the afterword Card tells us that he was asked to come up with a reason for the beginning of another civil war here in the United States, and he says that it was just way too easy to come up with the cause for the war. Hence, this story.
Reuben Malich is in Special Ops, and after successful missions overseas he is bumped upstairs to Major and is taking seminars from one Averell Torrent, a charismatic speaker who is a student of historical empires. Not long after, Malich is recruited to work in the Pentagon, doing some secret work that he doesn't really even know about, but we do find out that some of it bothers him greatly. One of his assignments is to come up with a plan to assassinate the President, in essence to find holes in American security, so that the military could understand those and learn to defend against them.
Bartholomew Coleman is assigned to Malich in the Pentagon, and Cole (as he is called) doesn't know what his assignment is. So he finally meets Malich, and they go for a clandestine meeting right out in the open - and get involved in attempting to prevent Malich's own plan for assassinating the President from being successfully implemented. In essence, Malich's plans were leaked to terrorists from somewhere inside the White House, and Malich's and Cole's job is to find out who and why before things go too much further. Of course, Malich is suspected of being in on the assassination attempt, which makes his job that much more difficult.
In the wake of the assassination (which took place on Friday the 13th, no less), New York City is attacked by a bunch of mechanicals in the name of the Progressive Restoration, a group that intends to return the constitution to the people, or some such rhetoric as that.
The story from here, while not predictable, you can probably see coming in one sense. It's a political espionage thriller, as clues and knots in the conspiracy are unraveled--or are they. And it's an ideological statement, as Card gives us his views and thoughts as to how this could happen to our country.
The reading is done by Stefan Rudnicki, who does a decent enough job playing various parts, although to my ear his voice doesn't change all that much from character to character. Card himself reads the lead-ins to each chapter, and provides the aforementioned afterward.
As to the story itself, I believe it's the best Card I've "read" in a long time. That's probably because it's different from anything else of his that I've read in the sense that it's not SF or fantasy, and I think it's done quite well. I found the story fascinating, and given that I didn't know where it was going, it kept me interested throughout. If you like this sort of thing, I recommend you go out and read it.
Oh yeah--I'm still reading FATAL REVENANT. Maybe next time. [-jak]
ATONEMENT (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Joe Wright adapts Christopher Hampton's adaptation of Ian McEwan's novel ATONEMENT. What a thirteen-year-old sees happen at an English country house is not really what happened. Her testimony when a crime is committed brings tragedy to two people. The film moves us from a posh country home to the war- ravaged shores of Dunkirk. The film tricks the viewer, but can only do that by blatantly cheating. The film is graced but not really enhanced by an impressively intricate tracking shot. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
There is a literary sort of film we see coming from England. It is the Merchant-Ivory-Masterpiece-Theater sort of thing with the English upper crust and all their social graces. Another sort of film more frequently seems to come more from the United States. These are puzzle films that are more than just mysteries. They play with the medium itself. For example, MEMENTO tells its story backward in time and the viewer has to guess how the story began. These two story types have been combined in prose, as in Saki's short story "The Open Window," but one rarely sees them combined in film. They sit uneasily together in ATONEMENT. This is a film all about misunderstanding what one sees. Just as young Briony Tallis (played at age thirteen by Saoirse Ronan) gets the wrong ideas about something she sees at her country house, the viewer also sees things that are not really as they seem. But director Joe Wright does not actually play fairly with the viewer. In one case, for example, one character recognizes another in a crowd only to get up close and find it was not really that person. The mistake is understandable since Wright quite noticeably used one actor at a distance and another one close up. Scenes shown from two different people's perspectives have large differences. Perhaps Wright is going for a RASHOMON effect. Still other places, the viewer quite intentionally is shown one thing happening and then is later told that is not what happened at all. There is more deception than meets the eye.
Later in the film we see the British on the beach at Dunkirk waiting to be evacuated. We move among them in a tracking shot just a little short of five minutes in length. The staging of this scene is a tour de force in logistics and coordination requiring great effort to make sure the hundreds of actors are in place just as the camera reaches them. It goes beyond impressive all the way to being jaw-dropping. But there is a difference between a jaw-dropping achievement and a jaw-dropping stunt. If it really makes the film more effective it is an achievement. Here I did not see what it really added. Perhaps it may add some immediacy, but more likely it will be just a distraction.
Briony Tallis is fascinated by the relationship between her sister Cecilia (played by Keira Knightley) and Robbie (James McAvoy). Robbie is the son of a servant who has become almost one of the family. When Briony sees her sister act in a provocative way in front of Robbie and later sees them making love, she jumps to a wrong conclusion. This combines with her testimony about a genuine crime to create long-lasting problems for the three. Later we see what they are each doing near the time of the Dunkirk evacuation. They have come by different routes. We see how their relationship has been forever altered by what Briony did years before. The plot is a little contrived with Robbie making a mistake necessary to make the plot work but otherwise very unlikely. His error is a mix-up almost worthy of a Shakespeare comedy. And for me there were unfortunate associations with the character of Ada Doom from Stella Gibbon's COLD COMFORT FARM. Ada Doom destroyed her whole life because as a little girl she "saw something nasty in the woodshed." Briony too saw something nasty with bad repercussions.
Undeniably there is an interesting story here of guilt without redemption, something that we rarely see in films and have not seen since HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG. But there is a lot that is contrived and does not work. I will probably be in a minority, but the little things wrong with the film add up to too much. I rate the film a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. Note: this film has one of the longest tracking shots in an English-language film, but it is dwarfed by the tracking shot in RUSSIAN ARK. That is a 99-minute film which except for the titles and credits is one long tracking shot filmed inside the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia. There is really does enhance the surrealism of the film. But I am not sure the long shot did much for ATONEMENT.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0783233/
Michael Chabon and Fritz Leiber (letter of comment by Evelyn C. Leeper):
In the 12/07/07 issue of the MT VOID, Steve Lelchuk asks, "Is it just me, or is the premise of [GENTLEMEN OF THE ROAD] strikingly similar to Fritz Lieber's "Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser"series?" [-sl]
A couple of days ago, I was reading Faren Miller's review of GENTLEMEN OF THE ROAD in the November issue of LOCUS, and Miller describes GENTLEMEN OF THE ROAD as having "a Leiberesque pair of thieves" and Zelikman as "less glamourous than Fafhrd."
I guess it's not just Steve. [-ecl]
New Jersey, Recycling, BEOWULF, Upcoming Movies, and "Tin Man" (letter of comment by John Purcell):
In response to the 12/07/07 issue of the MT VOID, John Purcell writes:
Dang, I need this break! I have been grading papers literally non-stop since last Friday night, so a little time away from that will do wonders for my addled brain.
Ah, good old New Jersey! Have I told you that I've been in that lovely Garden State many a time? My brother was born in Teaneck while Dad worked for Prudential at their Newark Home Office. I know for a fact that I was conceived in Teaneck, since seven months after mom and dad moved to Minneapolis (August, 1953) I was born. This may not be something I should brag about, but still, it's a Fact.
One of my mom's brothers had a summer home down in Avalon, just a short walk from the beach. That was really nice, and I can still remember it even though it was the summer of '69. (Turn off that danged Bryan Adams music, thank you very much!) That was the only time I have actually tried fishing at sea, about two miles off the Jersey coast. Didn't catch a damn thing. But there was this young lovely in a bikini on board who was looking mighty fine to my fifteen-year-old eyes. Ah, young lust...
I recall a recycling place in Apple Valley, Minnesota, with similar screwy hours for drop-off of goods. Eventually they got the idea that their concept of "convenient" did not jibe with everybody else's, so they changed the drop off schedule to a regular routine that actually gave people a chance to get there and drop off their recyclables: aluminum cans, plastic bottles, glass, newspapers--the works. In those days Minnesota would give you X-dollar amount per pound of cans and bottles, and I remember walking out of there sometimes with over twenty dollars in my hands. By 1990, Minneapolis started giving credit for recycling off your utility bill (water and waste removal) if you kept up a steady contribution of stuff in the appropriately marked bins. Living in Iowa was a bit different: you got a nickel a can and bottle when you returned them. Again, that adds up, especially if you have kids who love those soft drinks. Every little bit helps, as they say.
But New Jersey cannot hold a candle to Texas when it comes down to making things difficult to be environmentally conscious. To recycle here, simply bag--in the city-approved bags that only are available from the city, naturally--up your cans, bottles, and newspapers separately and leave them on the *right* side of your mailbox (looking from the street, of course) three feet back from the curb. Two feet is too close, and one foot is just damned pushing them. They'll write you up. Four feet back of the curb ... *shudder* I can't tell you. Anyway. Make sure you get those bags out Wednesday night (in our subdivision, that is) because the recycling truck comes through really early on Thursday morning to snag the bags. If you don't have a mailbox by the curb, well, then, you must be some kind of Freak!
But for God's sake, make sure the recycling is on the proper side of the mailbox, otherwise they won't take it. The other side of your driveway is where you deposit your bulk waste items: cardboard boxes (folded up, of course), bundled branches, other crap (in 33-gallon black bags), broken furniture, computer components, TV's, old bicycles, etc. This stuff is likewise picked up on Thursday morning in our subdivision by an even bigger (read: noisier) garbage truck, so we have to make sure everything is copacetic and ready to go Wednesday night. Sheesh!
At least they do a pretty good job of taking care of this stuff, I have to admit, even if there is no real incentive to recycle down here. I bet they drag it all over to Louisiana or the Gulf and dump it.
I still haven't seen BEOWULF yet. Once the semester is over I might. There are lots of fun movies coming up this holiday season. The ones that interest me the most are I AM LEGEND (loved the book!) and THE GOLDEN COMPASS (enjoyed reading that one, too). Will Smith sure has carved a niche for himself in Sci-Fi movies, hasn't he?
One final thing: what did you think of the--dare I say it?--Sci- Fi Channel miniseries "Tin Man"? My wife and I kind of liked this darker, moodier version of THE WIZARD OF OZ. The acting lacked any real passion, but the storyline was actually interesting and put the whole tale into a new perspective. Like I said, I thought it was alright. No award winner, but different.
So saying, off I go. Take care and enjoy your holidays. [-jp]
Better you doing the papers than me. No, I didn't know you were a Joisey-ite. The state has gotten a lot more cosmopolitan over the years. Certainly the restaurant situation has gotten a lot better. I have some very good restaurants almost within walking distance of my house and a very good public library. It was a step up from Southgate, Michigan, where the public library was open only Monday to Friday, 3PM to 5PM. You were supposed to be out in a Detroit car rather than inside reading books.
So you were born in 1953 or your parents moved then. Good year, 1953. That was the year I saw the first film I remember. It was THE WAR OF THE WORLDS and I was three years old. It terrified me. Within a couple of years I was desperate to see it again.
I am sorry to hear New Jersey is not the only place that makes environmental consciousness such a pain.
I do not have high expectations for a Will Smith version of I AM LEGEND. Richard Matheson did not like THE LAST MAN ON EARTH, but it is not really too bad an adaptation of I AM LEGEND. Now it keeps showing up in bargain DVDs. There are a few good films that are out copyright and show up in bargain editions on DVD. That one is pretty, good and I can also recommend CARNIVAL OF SOULS.
I am skeptical of the quality of Sci-Fi channel films and did not see "Tin Man". It sounds like you liked it.
Well, I hope your holidays are good. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
THE BLACK SWAN: THE IMPACT OF THE HIGHLY IMPROBABLE by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (ISBN-13 978-1-4000-6351-2, ISBN-10 1-400-06351-5) spends a lot of time explaining how people spend a lot of time trying to predict the future, while failing to take into account that so much of it is improbable (or unpredictable, if you prefer). He gave many examples (in fact, perhaps more than were needed), but one of the clearest was for the casino when he spoke at a seminar. All of the casino's risk management was aimed at cheaters, since the casino operated on the assumption that the law of averages was on their side. Yet "it turned out that the four largest losses incurred or narrowly avoided by the casino fell completely outside their sophisticated models." And what were these? First was a "$100 million dollar [loss] when an irreplaceable performer in their main show was maimed by a tiger." (Ironically, the casino had considered the tiger attacking the crowd, but not its trainer.) A disgruntled contractor tried to blow up the casino. An employee, for reasons completely unknown, failed *for years* to file IRS forms for big winners. When discovered, only paying an enormous fine kept the casino from being losing it license. And lastly, the casino owner embezzled casino funds to pay a kidnapper's ransom demand on his daughter.
All this is fascinating, of course, but since by their very nature unpredictable events are, well, unpredictable, it is not clear what Taleb expects people (or casinos) to do. Should a casino forget about trying to control the odds for its games because a meteor might hit it tomorrow? Yes, we need to recognize that predicting the future is a very shaky proposition, but we still have to attempt to plan. When you drive somewhere, you take a spare tire, but not a spare set of spark plugs, because the chances are greater that you will need the former than the latter.
The "black swan" of the title is one of the black swans of Australia, which amazed everyone, who until then had "known" that all swans were white. It is connected to the problem of induction, which is the assumption that the past is a (good) predictor of the future. Taleb gives several examples where induction fails, but the fact is that in general induction works fairly well, and I am sure Taleb uses it all the time. (Every time he has dialed his home phone number, he gets connected to his home, so he expects it will happen the next time too.)
Taleb gives Nelson Goodman's paradox of "grue". Something is "grue" if it is green before (say) December 31, 2010, and then blue after that date. Observing it to be green for hundreds of days before December 31, 2006, and hence apparently grue as well, does not correctly predict whether it actually is grue. The problem I see is that once you have defined a transition point, you must observe on either side for the observations to be meaningful. One might as easily consider H2O, defined as something solid below 0 degrees Celsius, liquid between 0 and 100 degrees, and gaseous about 100 degrees. Performing a lot of observations of something, but only at temperatures below minus- 10 degrees Celsius, is not actually enormously informative. (I think some philosophers have found problems with this attempt to avoid the problem of induction with a concept such as "grue", but I have not been able to figure them out.)
There are some interesting ideas in the book, but it goes on too long, and spends too much time on how life is unpredictable. I am reminded of a meeting about a computer center move, during which we addressed all sorts of problems we thought might crop up. At the end, someone asked, "Are there any other problems we have not thought of?" "Well, Joe, if we could answer that, we would have thought of them!"
[I am reminded of the narration from the prologue to IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA. "From our beginnings on the Navy drawing board, through the months of secret experiments out on the western desert, then through the desperate search for metals with the properties she needed, she was designed to be the nation's greatest weapon of the seas--the atom-powered submarine. Her engines were to be a miracle of speed and power, her sides strong enough to withstand any blow, her armament and fire power of greater force than the worst enemy she might encounter. The mind of man had thought of everything--except that which was beyond his comprehension!" What was beyond his comprehension, incidentally, turned out to be a giant six-legged octopus. -mrl]
WHY WE READ WHAT WE READ: A DELIGHTFULLY OPINIONATED JOURNEY THROUGH CONTEMPORARY BESTSELLERS by Lisa Adams and John Heath (ISBN-13 978-1-4022-1054-9, ISBN-10 1-4022-1054-X) tries to analyze the bestsellers of the last couple of decades. While bemoaning the lack of depth in most of what made the bestseller lists, Adams and Heath skim over a lot of books, dismissing them with quips and zingers. Yes, it is fun to read, but in the back of my mind is the thought that they are not raising the level of discourse. Adams and Heath do find books of depth on the lists, though not in the numbers they (or we) might wish. And even if books sell, are they read? Adams and Heath claim that 92% of Americans own at least one Bible, yet fewer than half can name the first book of the Bible. (Then again, all they know is that 92% of Americans *say* they own at least one Bible.)
The book is amusing and entertaining, and the authors do pinpoint recurring themes and trends, but whether there is any more depth to it than to many of the books they skewer is a matter of dispute.
I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that Michael Ondaajte's LOST CLASSICS made sound very appealing CLASSICS REVISITED by Kenneth Rexroth (ISBN-13 978-0-8112-0988-5, ISBN-10 0-8112-0988-1) and MORE CLASSICS REVISITED by Kenneth Rexroth (ISBN-13 978-0-8112-1083-6, ISBN-10 0-8112-1083-9). And surprisingly for lost classics, they were in my local library. Apparently they are collections of essays about classics written by Rexroth for the SATURDAY REVIEW and other magazines, and so are not intended to form a "Lifetime Reading Plan" or any other consistent whole. Some are interesting, some are not. Some recommend which translation to read, some do not. (For some, one gets the impression that there is only one translation to choose from--or perhaps none. Where does find translations of Tu Fu these days? [Mark suggested Chinese restaurant menus, but I pointed out that was "tofu", not "tu fu".])
And as I was still reading this, I found CLASSICS FOR PLEASURE by Michael Dirda (ISBN-13 978-0-15-101251-0, ISBN-10 0-151-01251-2). This is Dirda's fifth book of essays about classics, so by this point the classic are not quite as classic as you might expect. On the other hand, Dirda does cover some more "popular" authors, such as Agatha Christie, Philip K. Dick, Jules Verne, and Arthur Conan Doyle. The real problem I had is by the time I got to this book, the last thing I needed was more recommendations of books to read. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving. -- Albert Einstein
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